family secrets

Severance Magazine by Katy Barbier-Greenland

It was my pleasure to be interviewed by the amazing journalist and editor BK Jackson for a new online magazine that launched last month called Severance Magazine. The magazine has been established as a platform to discuss issues and experiences faced by adoptees, NPEs (non-parent expected), donor-conceived people and others who have found themselves with unanticipated, misassigned or unknown parentage. In the piece, I talk about the psychological cost of keeping and discovering family secrets, and what kinds of impacts there can be on the parent and the child where one wants to be open and one wants to maintain the secret….such a complex scenario!

This was a great opportunity to share some of my thoughts and reflect on some of my research findings. Thinking through the subjectivities of it all - whose truth is the secret and how can we navigate when authenticity and privacy come into conflict? How much is our identity wrapped up in our family and ancestry, and how important is it to have access to our own biogenetic information? Openness, privacy, secrecy…all such important issues in families and in particular, for people in the adoptee, NPE and donor-conceived communities.

Follow Severance Magazine on Twitter and Facebook, and please do visit the Severance website which is in my opinion already one of the very best resources available in terms of information and links, and I am sure it will enable community for people who have been affected by these experiences as well. Loads of essays, articles, resources and links and more added all the time and I encourage you to read Telling Family Secrets: Proceed with Caution if you or someone you know has discovered a family secret.

Media articles on my research by Katy Barbier-Greenland

  • I spoke with The Times about the impacts of DNA discoveries on people’s lives, and the resulting article was by Mark Bridge was published on Saturday 7th September. A subscription is required, although the good news is that you can sign up for a free month.

  • Tony Trueman from the European Sociological Association published a longer article about my research on August 23rd, sharing a few family secret discovery stories and looking at the consequences for people’s lives. Tony’s article is published at Medical Xpress and you can check it out here.

  • Journalist Katie Grant at iNews published a great article on August 22nd about my research. You can check it out here. She also included a couple of other stories of family secret discoveries - very complex, difficult and interesting experiences.

  • Yvonne Bolouris of The Scottish Sun shared the details of her own surprising non-parent-expected (NPE) experience, with discovering her biological father was not the man she thought it was her whole life. Like so many who purchase a home DNA test, Yvonne was just curious about the ethnicity of her and her daughters, and she has generously shared her story. Her piece was published 15th September.

European Sociological Association conference 2019 by Katy Barbier-Greenland

I presented my talk today at the European Sociological Association’s 14th conference (known as ESA 2019) today at the University of Manchester, UK. All went well, and I was the only one who presented on the secrecy work of Simmel, with the three other presenters in the ‘Simmel and Beyond’ session sharing their work on conflict, mass movements and publics. Full conference wrap up to come!

In the meantime, check out all the highlights on Twitter with the hashtag #ESA2019 - pretty sure we were trending at one point, with 3,024 sociologists taking over the city!

Well, on a more personal note, I’ve been working towards this presentation for months, and now that it’s done, it’s time to celebrate! And organise a mini summer getaway while the weather is still (sort of) nice here in Europe.

Families of Strangers? The Socio-legal Implications of Donor Linking by Katy Barbier-Greenland

My primary supervisor A/Prof Deb Dempsey and her colleague A/Prof Fiona Kelly recently launched their website for their Australian Research Council funded program of work called Families of Strangers? The Socio-legal Implications of Donor Linking. This project investigates the impact of donor linking – the process whereby donor-conceived people, donors and recipient parents access each other’s identity – on individual and familial identities and relationships. It builds on a lot of previous work that both Deb and Fiona have done, bringing their own unique lens as a lawyer and sociologist to these issues which are at the nexus of sociology, law, ethics, reproduction, rights and identity.

This project will uncover important insights about:

  • How donor linking frameworks are implemented, who is making applications, and their motivations for doing so

  • How reproductive technology professionals are engaged in the
    management and disclosure of identifying and non-identifying information in clinical
    settings

  • How and why individuals engage in statutory and non-statutory donor linking

  • How they perceive its impact on family relationships and identities

Outcomes will shed light on how familial identities and relationships are managed, transformed or disrupted by statutory and non-statutory forms of donor linking, and will create insights and evidence for policy, services and law on donor-linking. You can follow the project on Facebook and Twitter too.

They’re currently calling for interview participants so if you’d like to share your story of donor-conception and making contact with a donor relative, then do get in touch with Charlotte who is working alongside Deb and Fiona, on: donor.linking@latrobe.edu.au You might be eligible to take part if you’re a donor-conceived adult, donor, or parent of a donor-conceived child and you’ve made contact. Charlotte will give you more info about the project.

Reflecting on Family Tree Live UK by Katy Barbier-Greenland

Family Tree Live UK was a fantastic family history conference held at the beautiful Alexandra Palace in London at the end of April 2019. It brought together a mix of professional genealogists and people interested in their own family history, as well as some researchers.

My talk ‘Inheriting the unexpected: dealing with unforeseen family secret discoveries arising from genealogical research’ was in the final timeslot on day one of the event, and one of my favourite parts was actually speaking with people afterwards. Due to the personal nature of my topic I think it struck a chord with some of those in the audience, and it was a privilege to hear their stories on the day. It was also fantastic to meet many of the wonderful genealogists from the lively family history community on Twitter. I placed some of the recommendations coming out of my talk on the Outcomes page of this website, so please check them out and let me know what you think.

My highlight in terms of talks was Dr Larissa Allwork and Dr Nigel Hunt’s talk on ‘Shell shock stories and beyond: trauma and the First World War’ that explored the impacts of shellshock on people and society, with a focus on WWI. Larissa is a public historian with expertise in a number of areas including the ways in which states and societies deal with difficult, provocative and traumatic histories. This talk arises from some of the work Larissa and Nigel have been doing via the ‘trauma’ stream of a major collaboration between universities in the UK called The Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War, shining a light on shellshock stories at the intersection of psychiatry and history. Really interesting and important work and I was lucky to have a great chat with Larissa throughout the day.

Another highlight was a talk called ‘To DNA or not to DNA - that is the question’ by Katherine Borges, the cofounder and director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Katherine discussed the ways in which different DNA tests work and invited us to reflect on whether they are always the answer. A third talk I unfortunately missed, although I have seen Dr Penny Walters speak before: she gave a talk on the ethics of DNA testing and I have no doubt it would have been fascinating, as all her talks are.

RS12 - Simmel and beyond by Katy Barbier-Greenland

There will be over 800 presentations at ESA 2019 in Manchester, with a whole range of them coordinated through the various research networks (there are 37 of those - I’m part of the research network 13 which focuses on the sociology of families and relationships).

Each research stream has been put together specifically for this conference and there are only four papers to be given at each one - I’ve listed them below in case you’re interested - sociology today covers so many areas of life, it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it. I’m presenting alongside my supervisor A/Prof Deb Dempsey in RS12 - Simmel and beyond.

RS01 - Gaming at the Boundaries: Imagining Inclusive Futures

RS02 - Gestational Surrogacy. A Global Phenomenon in Europe

RS03 - Maritime Sociology 

RS04 - Men and Masculinities in a Changing Europe

RS05 - Multi-locality and Family Life 

RS06 - Patterns of Non-Resident Fatherhood 

RS07 - Platform Work: Needs, Activation and Representativeness in the Era of Digital Labour

RS08 - Politics of Engagement

RS09 - Practicing Borders

RS10 - Practicing the Future: Social, Material and Affective Futures

RS11 - Questioning Precariousness: Labour, Collective Organising and Everyday Life 

RS12 - Simmel and Beyond

RS13 - Sociology of Celebration

RS14 - Sociology of Knowledge 

RS15 - Sociology of Law 

RS16 - Sociology of Spatial Mobilities

RS17 - Transformative Rural-Urban Connections

RS18 - Urban Futures: Visions for Social Inclusion

RS19 - Visual and Filmic Sociology

RS20 - Education and Political Participation in Eastern Europe

Presenting at the upcoming ESA conference on Family Secrecy in the Information Age by Katy Barbier-Greenland

I’m so excited to be presenting at the upcoming European Sociological Association conference! The conference is going to be the gathering for sociologists of all types and disciplines and is called ‘Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging’. It will be held in Manchester, UK from 20 – 23 August 2019.

My paper is part of the 'Simmel and beyond' session for researchers whose work grapples with Simmel’s theories on the 100th anniversary of his death. The paper will be delivered in conjunction with one of my supervisors, A/Prof Deb Dempsey. Here’s the abstract:

Family Secrecy in the Information Age: A Re-Examination of Simmel’s ‘The Sociology of Secrecy and Secret Societies’

Discovering an unexpected major family secret typically has significant, ongoing personal and psychological consequences for those involved. Reproductive family secrets, such as those associated with conception and birth, are arguably more difficult to keep in an information age. People are now able to access their family history and biogenetic information in unprecedented ways due to factors including more open policy and legislative trends regarding donors and donation in reproduction, and enhanced opportunities to identify and connect with family members online. Further, sales of DNA home testing kits are expected to reach 100 million by 2021, and family history searches are the second most popular use of the Internet

This talk is based on stories from an empirical research project entitled 'Family Secrets, Secret Families'. Secrets discovered by participants included adoption, donor conception, hidden or secret children, and mis-assigned parentage. In the talk, we reflect on Simmel’s essay 'The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies' and assess its contemporary relevance for how knowledge, power, truth, silence, disclosure, and trust play out in families with reproductive secrets. We argue that Simmels’ insights continue to offer a valuable framework for understanding the power and function of knowledge and information management in family life in the era of the Internet and home DNA testing.